Ethiopia — June 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

The 2010 national elections dominate political discourse in this country. It is still not certain if the opposition will participate. The long-serving prime minister has indicated his desire not to run again, though it is not clear if his party will allow this, as there is no obvious successor. The ruling party and the opposition have stated their concern that the post-election street violence that marred the 2005 election not be repeated.

The global economic crisis has had a negative impact on the remittances from the large Ethiopian diaspora and also on export earnings. Foreign reserves remain low. However, the government voices optimistic growth estimates for 2009, though the International Monetary Fund and World Bank expect more modest gains. Overall inflation continues to decline, though urban food inflation remains problematic. Recently released figures show that Ethiopia had Africa’s second highest inflation rate in 2008.

Ethiopia’s armed forces withdrew from neighboring Somalia, though Ethiopia continues to work diplomatically with the African Union and other regional bodies to secure support for that nation’s fragile transitional government. Eritrea’s alleged support of radical Islamist elements has angered Ethiopia: This contributes to the simmering tension between the two countries, who continue in a highly militarized state of no war yet no peace.

Ethiopia seems on target to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal for education. Having achieved impressive numerical growth in the education sector, the Ministry of Education is now addressing quality deficiencies.

Following the December 2008 passage of the “Charities and Societies Proclamation” into law, the Ministry of Justice announced that all non-profits in the country should continue working as usual until the new oversight agency is staffed and guidelines are issued.

Religious Situation

Though there are occasional reports of tension, Ethiopia’s various faith communities continue to dialogue in forging religious harmony. These efforts, strongly endorsed by the government and funded by various donor agencies, are encouraging. For example, the rectors of the Orthodox Holy Trinity Theological College, the Protestant Theological School and the Catholic Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology have agreed to form a working group to explore collaboration.

In an unexpected move, the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in May established a seven-person executive committee of bishops to be responsible for the administrative functions of the patriarchate. Abune Paulos is to restrict himself to spiritual matters only.

A new Catholic bishop, Comboni Giovanni Migliorati, was announced for the Apostolic Vicariate of Awassa, home to approximately 170,000 Catholics. The selection of a new secretary general in Awassa was also announced. The Apostolic Vicariate of Nekemte, home to approximately 46,000 Catholics, remains vacant.

The Ge’ez Catholic Church’s annual meeting explored “The Role of the Catholic Church in Education.” Repeatedly, the hierarchy has stated that the formal school system is its flagship. The sustainability of its 315 schools was examined. Attendees were almost equally split between those who believe the system will contract or increase in a decade.

The future of the Ethiopian Catholic University of St. Thomas Aquinas (ECUSTA) is under review by the Catholic Bishops Conference and the university board of governors. The agreement between the Dominicans and the university is no longer in effect, and the Filipino Dominican administrators have left the country. The small inaugural freshman class had to be reduced due to government objections to their lack of qualifications for higher studies. Accounting responsibilities need clarification. An interim president has been appointed to a one-year term. With the government opening 13 universities and the Protestants going forward with two more, the fledgling ECUSTA faces many challenges.

The Ethiopian government has been very generous to and supportive of the Catholic university and has provided it with 60 hectares of free land and spent $1 million to clear the land; thus the fear of failing to deliver as promised is a major concern of the church.

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